Just a short walk from the W&M in Washington Office is the Middle East Institute. Located in a townhouse that dates to the 19th century, the interior of this unassuming building is the scene of dynamic research, where some of the top Middle East scholars work to untangle and analyze the region’s complex challenges.
The entrance to the Middle East Institute
If you walk through the main building you will come to a garden, with a historic Syrian fountain in the middle. Just beyond is the Oman Library, which houses the second largest collection of resources relating to the Middle East in DC (the largest is the Library of Congress). It’s also the site where I’m doing my internship this semester, and as I type these words, I’m actually (kind of) c0-managing it for the time being. Didn’t I say that DC was full of surprises?
Why are two interns running a research library? Currently, the library director, my boss, is on Hajj, the pilgrimage to Mecca that all Muslims are expected to do at least once in their lifetime. This is a wonderful experience for her, but naturally she can’t run a library while in Saudi Arabia. As a result, the task of running the day to day operations of the library has been entrusted to my fellow intern and myself for the next three weeks. It’s our job to ensure that the researchers and research assistants that come to the library are supported, and that the library’s long-term projects are maintained.
The MEI Garden and the Oman Library
So, what am I doing in the library? One of my favorite tasks is writing “Collection Spotlights,” which highlight important books in the collection. Essentially, if a book catches my eye, I can read it and then write about its potential scholarly applications. This write-up then appears on the Library’s website (look for the first one to appear sometime towards the end of October). In addition, I’m also supporting the library’s efforts to digitize its rare book collection. Next week, I get to attend a conference relating to digitization and cultural heritage, and I will then report on any relevant information. My job also involves writing and editing memos relating to library projects. With the boss on Hajj, I also respond to emails, answer the phone, and keep track of events occurring in the library. My fellow intern and myself co-administrate the library Facebook page, providing updates about materials and events. We are also responsible for bar-coding the books in the collection, and ensuring that the library is kept neat. So I guess if you asked me if I am free during the week, I would have to tell you that my schedule is booked solid (get it?).
The interior of the library
Beyond my job in the library, the Middle East Institute provides numerous opportunities for its interns to gain practical experience. Each week, there is a special talk for interns that boost a wide range of topics. Our first talk dealt with Ambassador Wendy Chamberlin’s career in the Middle East, and the lessons we can learn from it. By contrast, the session last week dealt with writing an effective resume and cover letter. These talks are designed to provide us with valuable insights about both international politics and our professional careers. They are also designed to ensure that we will finish our internships with the tools necessary to succeed. We also have the opportunity to help out at various conferences, where we get to hear noted scholars on the region talk about both the challenges and possibilities for the Middle East.
The interior of the library
But I’d be remiss if I didn’t talk about my fellow interns at the foundation. We have interns from Afghanistan, Iran, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, and Lebanon, just to name a few. As a result, in addition to the perspectives of the Middle East Institute scholars, I also get to hear the diverse opinions of my fellow interns. Each has had many unique experiences. One intern has worked with refugees and victims of the Taliban in Afghanistan, and my fellow library intern was in Lebanon during the 2006 July War. Others have travelled extensively in the Middle East, and most are looking to pursue graduate studies relating to the region. I’ve always believed that it’s important to get a wide range of viewpoints, so the numerous experiences of the scholars and interns at MEI means that there are always great discussions to be had.
It’s been an interesting experience working at the Middle East Institute these past couple of weeks, and I am excited for opportunities this internship will give me in the coming months. Stayed tuned…
As you might have guessed, there are a lot of books here